Psychology for Lawyers

understanding ourselves
ego defense mechanisms


"Psychoanalysis makes it easier to grasp and understand . . . our behavior. Analyzing human behaviour through the defense mechanisms expressed by others allows us to acquire a great deal of knowledge about ourselves and to mediate unproductive aspects of our own personality to achieve personal growth."

—Margot Phaneuf, Defense Mechanisms Used By Students

"Psychological defense mechanisms represent a crucial component of our capacity to maintain emotional homeostasis. Without them the conscious mind would be much more vulnerable to negatively charged emotional input . . . ."

—Brad Bowins, Psychological Defense Mechanisms: A New Perspective, 64 (1) Am. J. Psychoanalysis 1 (2004)

"The vital role which ego defenses play in emotional well-being is clear. They can contribute constructively to emotional equanimity. One's satisfactions in living may be increased and personal and professional effectiveness and efficiency may be enhanced."

—H.P. Laughlin, The Ego and Its Defenses 9 (New York: Jason Aronson, 2nd ed., 1979)

"Nearly all adults hold preferred views of themselves. In most cases, these are favorable views of self—indeed, somewhat more favorable than the objective facts would entirely warrant . . . . A recurrent problem of human functioning, therefore, is how to sustain these favorable views of self. Patterns of self-deception can help create these inflated self-perceptions. Yet a particular crisis in self-perception may arise when an internal or external event occurs that clearly violates the preferred view of self. In such cases, it is necessary for the self to have some mechanism or process to defend itself against the threatening implications of this event. Such process are commonly called defense mechanisms."

—Roy F. Baumeister, Karen Dale & Kristin L. Sommer, Freudian Defense Mechanisms and Empirical Findings in Modern Social Psychology: Reaction Formation, Projection, Displacement, Undoing, Isolation, Sublimation, and Denial, 66 (6) J. Personality 1081 (1998)

"All the defensive measures of the ego against the id are carried out silently and invisibly. The most that we can ever do is to reconstruct them in retrospect: we can never really witness them in operation. This statement applies, for instance, to successful repression. The ego knows nothing of it; we are aware of it only subsequently, when it becomes apparent that something is missing."

—Anna Freud, The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense 8 (New York: International Universities Press, 1946)

"Defense mechanisms involve a fair degree of self-deception and reality distortion. Furthermore, they function on relatively unconscious levels and therefore are not subject to the usual checks and balances of more conscious processes."

—Don E. Hamachek, Encounters With the Self 18 (New York: Holt, Rinehard & Winston, 1971)

"[W]e understand today that the use of defense mechanisms is also part of normal, everyday functioning. Used within limits, defenses aid us to manage stress, disappointment, and strong negative emotions. Only when used excessively are defenses likely to be linked with psychopathology."

—Phebe Cramer, Seven Pillars of Defense Mechanism Theory, 2 Soc. & Personality Psy. Compass 1963 (2008)

"The mature ego is full of its own status and defences and does whatever it can to avoid displacement. The ego takes the illusion of its power and stability quite seriously, and strives to protect itself against likely attack from the forces of the Self. The ego forgets that its role is secondary or instrumental, and it thinks that life is meant to serve it."

—David Tacey, How To Read Jung 50 (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., First American ed., 2007)


  Anna Freud, The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense 4-10 (New York: International Universities Press, 1946)

Don E. Hamachek, Encounters With the Self 17-28 (New York: Holt, Rinehard & Winston, 1971)

"Defense Mechanisms of the Ego," in Franz Alexander, Fundamentals of Psychoanalysis 96-101 (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1963)

Margot Phaneu, Defense Mechanisms Used By Students [online text]

Class Videos

Class Viewing 1: Fear Management Systems [6:30 mins.] [James Hollis, a Jungian analyst; Jung Society of Washington]

Class Viewing 2: Psychological Defense Mechanisms: An Introduction [1:46 mins.] [Joseph Burgo]

Class Viewing 3: Defense Mechanisms in Therapy [11:03 mins.] [Brad Peters, a Halifax psychologist]

Class Viewing 4: Personality: Freudian Psychoanalysis [13:08 mins.] [Chris Dula] [Chris Dula, East Tennessee State University] [part of a lecture on Personality: Freudian Psychoanalysis] [Defense mechanisms discussed: repression, regression, displacement, reaction formation] Pt 2 [5:47 mins.] [Defense mechanisms discussed: sublimation, projection, rationalization, denial]

Class Viewing 5: "This is how you fool yourself": Jordan Peterson on Defense Mechanisms [5:14 mins.] [Jordan Peterson is a clinical psychologist on the faculty of the University of Toronto]

Class Viewing 6: Self-Deception in Psychopathology [1:23:04 mins.] [for class viewing, begin at 47:43 mins. and end at 50:40 mins., begin again at 1:00:24 mins. to 1:09:00 mins. (end of the lecture)]

Reference (Ego and Its Defenses)

Commentary on Jung's Approach to the Ego
[13:48 mins.] [Michael V. Adams's commentary begins at 1:40 mins. of the video and, for class purposes, ends at 2:55 mins.]

"This is how you fool yourself"
[4:42 mins.]

Repressive Defenses
[3:43 mins.] [Jon Frederickson]

Freudian Theory of Defense Mechanisms
[13:08 mins.]

Freud: Defense Mechanisms
[11:59 mins.]

Defense Mechanisms
[11:24 mins.]

Defense Mechanisms
[12:45 mins.]

"Facing Reality": A 1954 McGraw-Hill Film
[11:15 mins.]

Working with Defenses in Psychotherapy
[8:46 mins.] [Jon Frederickson]

[5:05 mins.] [Jon Frederickson]

[5:27 mins.] [Jon Frederickson]

A Dialogue with Claudio Naranjo
[4:11 mins.]

What are Defense Mechanisms? 11 Examples
[5:14 mins.] [presentation by a relationship consultant]

Understanding Psychodynamic Counseling
[8:22 mins.] [interview of psychotherapist Brendan McLoughlin] [comment on the beginnings of the psychodynamic approach being grounded in Freud's theories and an understanding of the unconscious; comments on Freud's id, ego, and superego]

Freud Made Easy: Defense Mechanisms
[9:00 mins.]

Trauma and the Soul
[2:43 mins.] [Donald Kalsched] [commenting on "getting behind the defenses"] Early Trauma and Dreams [1:10:12 mins.] [audio] Early Trauma and Dreams: Pt2 [23:42 mins.] Transformational Process in the Psychoanalysis of Trauma [1:10:21 mins.] Pt2 [1:10:41 mins.] Pt3 [1:11:07 mins.] Pt4 [28:34 mins.] [Clinical psychologist and Jungian psychoanalyst in private practice in Albuquerque, New Mexico]

Defense Mechanisms in Daily Conduct
[1:44:43 mins.] [audio presentation] [Manly P. Hall]

Sheldon Solomon on Defenses Against Death Anxiety
[7:21 mins.]

Reinterpreting Ego Defenses

Understanding Manipulation Tactics
[6:56 mins.] Pt2 [11:32 mins.]

Reference (Projection)

[8:36 mins.]

Reference (Denial) (Jon Frederickson)

[5:37 mins.]

Denial Per Se
[4:53 mins.]

Denial in Fantasy

[5:41 mins.]

Denial in Deed
[5:27 mins.]

Denial in Word
[5:37 mins.]

Reference (Externalization) (Jon Frederickson)

[5:05 mins.]

Reference (Id, Ego, Superego)

A Short Introduction to the Id, the Superego and the Ego
[4:46 mins.]

Reference (Self-Deception) (Videos)

Honest Liars: The Psychology of Self-deception
[13:47 mins.] [Cortney Warren, a TED Talk]

Why Do We Deceive Ourselves?
[15:49 mins.] [Robert Trivers]

The Pattern Behind Self Deception
[19:32 mins.] [Michael Shermer]

Reading: Robert Lockie, Depth Psychology and Self-Deception, 16 Philosophical Psychology 127 (2003) [online text]

Reference (Repression)

Michael Tsarion: True Selfhood
[12:07 mins.]

Reference (Web Resources)

Defense Mechanisms

The Essential Guide to Defense Mechanisms
[Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Psychology Today, 2011]

15 Common Defense Mechanisms
[Dr. John M. Grohol]

The Defense Mechanisms
[Maria Helena Rowell, The Freud Page]

Defense Mechanisms

Defense Mechanisms in Daily Conduct
[audio, 1 hr. 45 mins. ] [Manly P. Hall]

Ego Defenses
[in a Guide to the Unconscious]

Insights Into Self-Deception
[New York Times, Daniel Goldman, May 12, 1985]

Ego Psychology
Wikipedia entry

Reference (Articles)

Freudian Defense Mechanisms and Modern Social Psychology
[Roy F. Baumeister, Karen Dale & Kristin L. Sommer, Dept. of Psychology,
Case Western Reserve University]

Seven Pillars of Defense Mechanism Theory
[Phebe Cramer, Department of Psychology, Williams College]

Psychosocial Implications of the Shadow
[Andrew Powell, 2002]

"The Psychic Apparatus," in An Elementary Textbook of Psychoanalysis
[Charles Brenner, An Elementary Textbook of Psychoanalysis (1973)] [Pt2]

Reference (Repression)

Sigmund Freud, The Complete Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis 294-298 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1966)(James Strachey transl. & ed.)

Franz Alexander, Fundamentals of Psychoanalysis 96-100 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1948)

Shelley E. Taylor, Positive Illusions: Creative Self-Deception and the Healthy Mind 123-133 (New York: Basic Books, 1989)

Reference (Anna Freud)

A Documentary on Anna Freud and Her Life
[55:01 mins.]

Reference (Ego Psychology)

Ego Psychology

From Ego Psychology to Modern Conflict Theory
[Christopher Christian]

Reference (Ego--a Philosophical Perspective)

A Natural History of the Ego
[David A. Beardsley] [a 12:08 mins. audio is available] Pt2 [11:51 mins.; audio] Pt3 [12:16 mins.; audio]


“[The ego] is a part of the personality that, as the result of inevitable, frustrating, traumatizing, anxiety-provoking contact with the environment, separates itself out of the instinctual heritage with which we are born.

The ego serves to mediate between the instinctual needs of the id and the demands of reality. The ego is also a tension-reducing mechanism that grows to function, in part, automatically. It protects the psyche from being overwhelmed by anxiety-producing situations by means of such ego defense mechanisms as repression, denial, and projection. These so-called ego defense mechanisms are a normal bulwark against being overwhelmed by anxiety to a point where one is no longer able to cope with life's tensions or problems.”

—Melvin S. Heller, Toward a Common Language for Behavioral Science and Law: The Legal Utility of Psychiatric Labels and the Psychoanalytic Frame of Reference, 40 Temp. L.Q. 283, 288 (1967)

Commonly recognized defense mechanisms include: repression, denial, projection, displacement, rationalization.

The number of different defense mechanisms recognized in psychological literature is now over 40. In H.P. Laughlin, The Ego and Its Defenses (New York: Jason Aronson, 2nd ed., 1979), the following "major" ego defenses are listed: compensation, conversion, denial, displacement, dissociation, fantasy, idealization, identification, incorporation, internalization, introjection, inversion, projection, rationalization, reaction formation, rechannelization (sublimation), regression, repression, restitution, substitution, symbolization, undoing. [Id. at 7].

The psychoanalytic definition of an ego defense mechanism set forth in The Ego and Its Defenses is as follows: An ego defense "is a specific defensive process, operating outside of and beyond conscious awareness. It is automatically and unconsciously employed in the endeavor to secure resolution of emotional conflict, relief from emotional tension, and to avert or allay anxiety. A given dynamism is evoked by the ego as an attempted means of coping with an otherwise consciously intolerable situation." [Id. at 6]

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